Star Trek: The Motion Picture (G)
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This is the first movie in the franchise based on the 1966-69 TV series Star Trek. It came out in 1979 (when I was 4 years old). I'm pretty sure I saw it sometime in my youth, but I have no idea when. (The theme music, by Jerry Goldsmith, would later be the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I'm really not sure if I first saw this movie before or after I saw that series. I feel like I could have seen the movie later and been surprised that it had TNG's theme music. Or not.) I would in fact say the movie's whole score is pretty good, and kind of iconic (at least among Trek fans). Before I re-watched the movie to write this review in 2023 (during my summer of Star Trek), I think most of what I vaguely remembered about the movie probably came from a graphic novelization (which I probably still have, somewhere in the mess I call a bedroom). And I think that may have given some details that weren't in the movie. Although I should also say the version I watched is 131 minutes long, but there's a director's cut that's 136 minutes long. (It's rated PG, as opposed to the original cut being rated G. The version I watched is for some reason "not rated".) The director's cut came out in 2001, so I can't imagine I've ever seen it. Weird thing is, it's supposed to somehow be a "streamlined" version of the movie, with a faster pace, despite being a bit longer. I don't know how that works. Anyway... that version was apparently better received by critics than the original, theatrical version of the movie. (I hadn't heard that, I just read it on Wikipedia. I'm just used to hearing about the movie being generally disparaged by fans.) I think I remembered not loving the movie, myself, but I never felt like I actually disliked it. And upon re-watching now, I definitely did like it, even if it's still probably my least-favorite Trek movie. One common complaint about the movie (which I agree with) is that its plot is too similar to that of a particular episode of the TV series. (I won't specify which episode, to avoid spoiling the movie.) Another complaint is that there's too much talking, not enough action, and with that I must disagree. Not that it's untrue, I just disagree with the belief that that's a bad thing. On the contrary, I kind of like that about the movie (and about much of the "Star Trek" TV and movie franchise in general). Oh, I also wanted to say I always had the idea in mind that the movie was greenlit based on the success of Star Wars, in 1977, but Wikipedia informs me that it was actually at least partly because of the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which also came out in '77).
Well, hopefully I haven't forgotten anything I wanted to say in preamble. So... at the start of the movie, there's just a black screen with some music playing, which is something that's been done with other movies, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that kind of thing always makes me a bit anxious, like, I wonder if it's supposed to be like that or if there's something wrong with the disc I was watching. But I didn't have too long to wait before it was revealed I had nothing to worry about. We get the Paramount logo, and the opening credits, and then we see three Klingon ships encounter a mysterious cloud in space. They fire into it, and then it fires back and destroys them. (It's worth noting that this is the first time we see Klingons with the forehead ridges that would become their new look going forward in the franchise.) This event is monitored by a Federation space station called Epsilon Nine. The cloud is traveling in the station's general direction, and its course will ultimately take it to Earth.
The Enterprise is in the final stages of a massive refit of its systems. Normally it would take more time to finish the refit and then go on a shakedown cruise, but the process must be expedited because it's the only Starfleet ship close enough to intercept the cloud before it gets to Earth. Kirk has been an admiral for some time now, but he gets command of the Enterprise "temporarily" returned to him to deal with this mission. The ship's transporters aren't functioning yet, so Scotty takes him in a module to fly to the ship, and there's a fairly lengthy sequence that's basically ship porn, which also reminded me of "2001". Anyway, most of the rest of the old crew are in their same old positions on the ship, but McCoy and Spock have both left Starfleet. I don't really know what McCoy has been up to, but he's quite annoyed to have been "drafted" back into service. Meanwhile, Spock has been on Vulcan, undergoing a ritual called Kolinahr, to purge all emotions and achieve "total logic". But he senses a consciousness coming from the cloud, and decides to return to the Enterprise (though it takes awhile for him to reach it). Now, I need to say that Enterprise has a new captain, Will Decker (Stephen Collins), who isn't happy when Kirk takes command and demotes him to first officer, especially because Kirk is unfamiliar with all the changes to the ship. There's also a new science officer, but he and another crew member are tragically killed in a transporter malfunction, so Decker will have to double as science officer, for now. (Which is something Spock did his whole time on the ship, btw.) And there's a new navigator named Ilia (Persis Khambatta), who once had some kind of relationship with Decker when he was on her home planet, Delta IV. (She mentions that she has taken an oath of celibacy, but in the version of the movie I saw the reason for that wasn't explained. I think it must be in the graphic novel I read years ago that it was said Deltans consider other races to be "sexually immature", or something. I don't know if that's canon, but what is apparently canon is that other races for some reason find Deltans distractingly alluring, which is why they must take the oath of celibacy when joining Starfleet.) I also want to say it seems like she's taken over Chekov's old position on the ship, and he is now the ship's tactical officer.
Kirk orders the Enterprise to engage the warp drive before it's been tested, and this turns out to be a bad idea, because the imbalance in the engines somehow creates an unstable wormhole that has a weird effect on the ship and its crew. (Everything seems slowed down and distorted.) And an asteroid gets pulled into the wormhole, which could potentially destroy the ship unless they destroy it first. Kirk orders Chekov to fire phasers, but Decker says to belay that order (which is probably the thing I remembered best from the movie before re-watching it, for some reason), and to fire photon torpedoes instead. This is just one example of his being more familiar with the ship's new systems than Kirk is. But anyway, they escape from the wormhole and have to drop out of warp for awhile. It's then that Spock catches up to them and joins the crew as science officer. McCoy says he seems the same as ever, which seemed odd to me, because I thought he was quite noticeably more emotionless than he used to be. He's really just there because of his own curiosity about the consciousness he sensed, and there's some question as to whether he might end up putting his own agenda ahead of his duty to Starfleet, but Kirk doesn't believe that would happen.
Well, eventually the engines are ready, and they go to warp speed without any further problems, and soon reach the cloud, which is incredibly massive. After some debate, they enter the cloud, and finally find a vessel at its center, which dwarfs the Enterprise. An electrical probe appears on the ship to study it, and it abducts Ilia. Later, a "mechanoid" that looks exactly like Ilia appears to interact with the humans onboard the ship, whom she considers an infestation. She says she was created by V'Ger, which at first the crew think must be like the captain of the alien vessel, or something. But Spock takes it upon himself to leave the ship in a space suit to make more direct observations, and comes to the conclusion that the vessel itself is a living machine. But the vessel isn't V'Ger; Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Decker eventually meet V'Ger and learn its identity, but I don't want to spoil what it is. Nor will I spoil how the whole situation is ultimately resolved. I'll just say that Kirk retains command of the Enterprise, and takes the ship out for further adventures. Which seemed presumptuous to me, I don't really think he had the authority to do that. But whatevs.
So... what else can I say? I liked that the story was more about... well, story, than action. I think it felt more like classic, "hard" science fiction than a lot of modern sci-fi does (more so even than a lot of Star Trek). I don't always find that kind of thing entertaining, sometimes I do just find it kind of boring, but I thought it was okay here, perhaps because the movie is part of a larger franchise of which I was already a fan, with familiar characters I already cared about. It's certainly not the best story Star Trek has ever done (before or since), but it's still reasonably interesting (and I would say better than the episode that the movie gets compared to; certainly far grander in scope). And I'm not sure what else to say. I hope I'm not forgetting anything. But basically I liked it. And I feel like it could be interesting to see a sequel to this story someday.
Followed by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan